The House yesterday approved, 242 to 161, a stop-gap spending bill to carry the government through mid-December that probably would lead to an increase in defense spending but would hold the line on most domestic appropriations.
The measure was sent to the Senate after the House, by an even more lopsided vote of 281 to 119, defeated an effort to open it up to a series of amendments, including one to reduce direct military aid to Israel and one to scuttle the Clinch River breeder reactor.
In approving the so-called continuing resolution, the House acquiesced in President Reagan's request for only a short-term grant of interim spending authority and agreed to an expiration date of Dec. 15, rather than Feb. 28, as proposed earlier by its Appropriations Committee.
This virtually assures that Congress, as Reagan requested last week, will return after the Nov. 2 elections for a lame-duck session to continue work on its 13 regular appropriations bills.
The stop-gap measure is needed to continue spending authority for the government because Congress faces the start of a new fiscal year Oct. 1 without having enacted any of its appropriations bills. The House has approved 4 of the 13; the Senate has approved none.
The House debate was unusually low-key in light of the sweeping nature of the measure, which could fund the entire government for more than two months, or at least until individual appropriations bills for various agencies are approved by both houses and signed into law by the president.
Members seemed resigned to the prospect of a lame-duck session, and reluctant to get bogged down in a money fight that could delay Congress' planned adjournment to go home and campaign.
The ease with which the House approved the measure, with no overt opposition from the administration, also held out at least some hope that Congress could enact a spending bill that Reagan could sign without the kind of impasse that led to a one-day shutdown of the government last year.
But Appropriations Committee sources said potential trouble spots remain, including defense spending levels.
The House-passed measure would fund most domestic programs at current levels while financing the Pentagon at new levels as soon as a defense money bill is approved by the House Appropriations Committee. Its defense subcommittee is scheduled to mark up a bill late next week, although action by the full committee is considered doubtful if Congress quits on Oct. 1 or 2, as congressional leaders are now suggesting.
The Senate Appropriations Committee, however, is expected to report out a defense spending bill shortly and then bargain to have its funding levels instead of the House levels in the continuing resolution. And the Senate committee is expected to give Reagan most though not all of the large spending increase he wants.
The Senate's Appropriations subcommittee on defense yesterday approved a $233.4 billion money bill for the Pentagon next year, $28.l billion more than was approved for this year. Reagan had requested $245.5 billion. The bill includes nearly $1 billion to buy 5 MX missiles, along with increased funding for the Pershing II missile and ground-launched Thomahawk cruise missiles.
The full Senate Appropriations Committee is scheduled today to take up both the defense bill and the continuing resolution. Senate action on the continuing resolution is planned for next Tuesday.
During yesterday's brief House debate, some Democrats voiced opposition to the favored treatment for defense but without discernible impact. The bill "recognizes wrong priorities and undermines the appropriations process," complained Rep. Leon E. Panetta (D-Calif.). On the final vote, however, Democrats voted 153 to 69 for the measure, while Republicans split almost evenly: 89 for and 92 against. Liberals and conservatives lined up on both sides of the issue.
Congressional Republicans say they believe the Reagan administration is reluctant to veto the continuing resolution but is holding its options open to press for as much defense spending as it can get.
For non-defense programs, the House-approved continuing resolution generally provides for spending at current levels or at new levels approved by the House or its Appropriations Committee, whichever are lower. Foreign aid spending would be at current rates or at Reagan's requested levels, whichever are lower.
But there is an exception for foreign aid to Israel, which drew a protest yesterday from Rep. Paul N. McCloskey (R-Calif.), who complained that the Congress would be signalling "complicity in the massacre" of Palestine refugees last week in Beirut if it increased aid to Israel now.
The continuing resolution, by requiring continued funding for Israel at current levels, would provide $50 million more in direct military grants and $260 million more in economic grants than Reagan requested, although total assistance would be less because of reduced loan funding.
Both McCloskey and those who wanted to use the bill as a vehicle to kill the Clinch River reactor and other costly public works projects were prevented from offering their amendments, however, when the House decided to go along with its Rules Committee and shut off all amendments except the one changing the termination date for the resolution.
Even on this point, however, the Appropriations Committee prevailed when its chairman, Rep. Jamie L. Whitten (D-Miss.), moved to advance the expiration date from Feb. 28 to Dec. 15. A Republican effort to have the interim spending authority expire instead whenever the 97th Congress finally adjourns was rejected despite a claim by Rep. Silvio O. Conte (R-Mass.), ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee, that Congress would just be "shoot(ing) ourselves in the foot again" by setting an arbitrary deadline.